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Does Anything Matter Other Than the Interface?

August 7, 2014

I read what I thought was a remarkable public relations story. You will want to check the write up out for two reasons. First, it demonstrates how content marketing converts an assertion into what a company believes will generate business. And, second, it exemplifies how a fix can address complex issues in information access. You may, like Archimedes, exclaim, “I have found it.”

The title and subtitle of the “news” are:

NewLane’s Eureka! Search Discovery Platform Provides Self-Servicing Configurable User Interface with No Software Development. Eureka! Delivers Outstanding Results in the Cloud, Hybrid Environments, and On Premises Applications.

My reaction was, “What?”

The guts of the NewLane “search discovery platform” is explained this way:

Eureka! was developed from the ground up as a platform to capture all the commonalities of what a search app is and allows for the easy customization of what a company’s search app specifically needs.

I am confused. I navigated to the company’s Web site and learned:

Eureka! empowers key users to configure and automatically generate business applications for fast answers to new question that they face every day.

The Web site explains:

Need a solution that provides a unified view of available information housed in multiple locations and formats? Finding it hard to sort among documents, intranet and wiki pages, and available reporting data? Create a tailored view of available information that can be grouped by source, information type or other factors. Now in a unified, organized view you can search for a project name and see results for related documents from multiple libraries, wiki pages from collaboration sites, and the profiles of project team members from your company’s people directory or social platform.

“Unified information access” is a buzzword used by Attivio and PolySpot, among other search vendors. The Eureka! approach seems to be an interface tool for “key users.”

Here’s the Eureka technology block diagram:


Notice that Eureka! has connectors to access the indexes in Solr, the Google Search Appliance, Google Site Search, and a relational database. The content that these indexing and search systems can access include Documentum, Microsoft SharePoint, OpenText LiveLink, IBM FileNet, files shares, databases (presumably NoSQL and XML data management systems as well), and content in “the cloud.”

For me the diagram makes clear that NewLane’s Eureka is an interface tool. A “key user” can create an interface to access content of interest to him or her. I think there are quite a few people who do not care where data come from or what academic nit picking went on to present information. The focus is on something a harried professional like an MBA who has to make a decision “now” needs some information.


Archimedes allegedly jumped from his bath, ran into the street, and shouted “Eureka.” He reacted, I learned from a lousy math teacher, that he had a mathematical insight about displacement. The teacher did not tell me that Archimedes was killed because he was working on a math problem and ignored a Roman soldier’s command to quit calculating. Image source:

I find interfaces a bit like my wife’s questions about the color of paint to use for walls. She shows me antique ivory and then parchment. For me, both are white. But for her, the distinctions are really important. She knows nothing about paint chemistry, paint cost, and application time. She is into the superficial impact the color has for her. To me, the colors colors are indistinguishable. I want to know about durability, how many preparation steps the painter must go through between brands, and the cost of getting the room painted off white.

Interfaces for “key users” work like this in my experience. The integrity of the underlying data, the freshness of the indexes, the numerical recipes used to prioritize the information in a report are niggling details of zero interest to many system users. An answer—any answer—may be good enough.

Eureka! makes it easier to create interfaces. My view is that a layer on top of connectors, on top of indexing and content processing systems, on top of wildly diverse content is interesting. However, I see the interfaces as a type of paint. The walls look good but the underlying structure may be deeply flawed. The interface my wife uses for her walls does not address the fact that the wallboard has to be replaced BEFORE she paints again. When I explain this to her when she wants to repaint the garage walls, she says, “Why can’t we just paint it again?” I don’t know about you, but I usually roll over, particularly if it is a rental property.

Now what does the content marketing-like “news” story tell me about Eureka!

I found this statement yellow highlight worthy:

Seth Earley, CEO of Earley and Associates, describes the current global search environment this way, “What many executives don’t realize is that search tools and technologies have advanced but need to be adapted to the specific information needed by the enterprise and by different types of employees accomplishing their tasks. The key is context. Doing this across the enterprise quickly and efficiently is the Holy Grail. Developing new classes of cloud-based search applications are an essential component for achieving outstanding results.”

Yep, context is important. My hunch is that the context of the underlying information is more important. Mr. Earley, who sponsored an IDC study by an “expert” named Dave Schubmehl on what I call information saucisson, is an expert on the quasi academic “knowledge quotient” jargon. He, in this quote, seems to be talking about a person in shipping or a business development professional being able to use Eureka! to get the interface that puts needed information front and center. I think that shipping departments use dedicated systems who data typically does not find their way into enterprise information access systems. I also think that business development people use Google, whatever is close at hand, and enterprise tools if there is time. When time is short, concise reports can be helpful. But what if the data on which the reports are based are incorrect, stale, incomplete, or just wrong? Well, that is not a question germane to a person focused on the “Holy Grail.”

I also noted this statement from Paul Carney, president and founder of NewLane:

The full functionality of Eureka! enables understaffed and overworked IT departments to address the immediate search requirements as their companies navigate the choppy waters of lessening their dependence on enterprise and proprietary software installations while moving critical business applications to the Cloud. Our ability to work within all their existing systems and transparently find content that is being migrated to the Cloud is saving time, reducing costs and delivering immediate business value.

The point is similar to what Google has used to sell licenses for its Google Search Appliance. Traditional information technology departments can be disintermediated.

If you want to know more about FastLane, navigate to Keep a bathrobe handy if you review the Web site relaxing in a pool or hot tube. Like Archimedes, you may have an insight and jump from the water and run through the streets to tell others about your insight.

Stephen E Arnold, August 7, 2014

Music Playlists Inspire Hope For Information Playlists

August 5, 2014

Computers are soulless machines that are programmed to understand our tastes and make suggestions based off them. Face it, though, computers cannot predict change in people’s tastes, because humans have erratic behaviors. How does this relate to music? According to The Next Web’s article “Why We Crave Human-Curated Playlists” music listeners want human made playlists again, because it allows them to discover new music.

“The unique thing about a playlist is how human it is. When you create a playlist, you’re sharing information about yourself. Sharing a playlist allows for others to look into your music tastes and even into your personality. This connection is what makes following artists on services like Spotify seem more emotionally invested. You get to hear music that the artists are inspired by, and what they’re currently jamming to at this very moment.”

A mixture of algorithms and human creation are the key to appealing to people’s tastes for the old mixed with the new. The human element makes music selection more interesting and is what music startups need to consider. It also gives hope to information professionals worried about being replaced with computers. Information professionals can help people find the best content and make it more personalized.

Whitney Grace, August 05, 2014
Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Opportunities Intersect Challenges with SharePoint

June 17, 2014

Probably the most all-encompassing challenge facing SharePoint is the tension between the user experience provided by consumer level technology (mobile, social, cloud, etc. etc.) and the limitations of enterprise level technology. SharePoint knows its weaknesses and strives to overcome them, but change is slow. Read more in the eCommerceTimes article, “Microsoft SharePoint’s Crossroads: Where Opportunities, Challenges Meet.”

The article sums up the problem:

“As consumer-based technologies, which are primarily out in the cloud, have progressed, organizations want to focus less on infrastructure and focus more on actual business systems. End users on the other side of that want their corporate solutions to match more closely to their personal habits, to their personal tools. They’re doing everything in the cloud, everything via a mobile phone.”

And in this current scenario there are lots of opportunities present for SharePoint, and yet within them, many challenges. SharePoint is a large ship, so to speak, and is therefore slow to turn. Furthermore, they are restricted by their update plan, which thus far has provided a major overhaul every 3 years instead of their competitors’ continual, smaller improvements. Stephen E. Arnold knows this strengths and weaknesses well, and reports on them through his Web service, Having made his life’s work about search, Arnold’s SharePoint feed serves to inform end users and managers about tips, tricks, add-ons, and shortcuts that can make life easier.

Emily Rae Aldridge, June 17, 2014

Next Feature of Nuance Promises Network of Connected Devices

March 27, 2014

The article on Nuance titled Experience a More Human Conversation Through Nuance Cloud Service begins with some reflections on the 2014 Mobile World Congress. Effortlessness is the rallying-cry of mobile consumers- they want machines that not only hear but understand. The article explains,

“To help brands and developers worldwide support this need, Nuance recently announced Nuance Cloud Services, a cloud platform that defines the user experiences of some of the largest and most well-respected brands by transforming them into intelligent personal assistants that understand and engage with users on a simpler, more human level… In addition to our technologies, we’ve worked with content and technology partners to ensure that Nuance Cloud Services grants our partners access to a massive range of content and services.”

This means that through Nuance Cloud Services, streaming is possible no only on smartphones and tablets but with smart TVs, as well as connected cars and PCs. The network that this creates informs the intelligent virtual assistant of the users preferences over time. Nuance also promises depth of customization to satisfy the desires of any partner brand. The search function for Nuance’s What’s Next feature is offline. This is all well and good, but it sounds more like what is happening now then in the future. So what is next? Maybe search that works?

Chelsea Kerwin, March 27, 2014

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Webinar to Improve SharePoint Document Viewing

March 26, 2014

Webinars are a classic professional development option, but can be especially helpful when needing to brush up on the details and ins and outs of SharePoint. CMS Wire offers a good selection and they will be offering a helpful one today. Read more on their event calendar, “(Webinar) Make SharePoint Document Viewing Easier with HTML 5.

The overview of the program says:

“By integrating an HTML5 document viewer with SharePoint 2013, you enable your users to easily display almost any document file type right from a SharePoint list, through a consistent, easy-to-use interface with search, annotation, redaction, and DRM tools. Your users don’t need any special software on their devices—all they need is an HTML5 browser, even on mobile—and their documents show up fast, through any connection type.”

This type of upgrade to the document viewer could be really essential in improving user experience for your users. Saving users clicks and helping them stay within SharePoint to open documents means saving them time and improving user satisfaction. Stephen E. Arnold is a longtime follower of search and reports many of his observations on He finds that a successful SharePoint deployment is one that is efficient and customized, so taking the time to learn and implement tricks like these really do make all the difference.

Emily Rae Aldridge, March 26, 2014

DIY SharePoint Site Usability

November 27, 2013

There is always enough SharePoint chatter to keep enterprise experts at every level occupied. And a current popular topic of conversation is SharePoint usability. CMS Wire continues the conversation in their article, “The Missing Link in SharePoint Site Usability.”

The author writes:

“The topic of SharePoint site usability never grows old. With every new version of SharePoint that comes out, Microsoft has touted that it is extremely intuitive and easy to use, and judging from the number of licenses sold, many organizations seem to have bought into this myth. What they are not told is what it actually takes to make SharePoint sites user-friendly.”

Customization, customization, customization. That’s what it takes to make SharePoints sites user-friendly. And customization is costly. Most people just can’t make do anymore with a bare bones SharePoint implementation. Organizations are looking to third party add-ons to round out their installation. Stephen E. Arnold, a longtime enterprise expert and man behind, relays this message frequently. Stay tuned to ArnoldIT for ways to enhance or replace a SharePoint implementation, depending on your organization’s needs.

Emily Rae Aldridge, November 27, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Is It Time to Jettison the Jargon Intuitive?

April 9, 2013

Search vendors, who have embraced facets and visualization, are no strangers to the concept of the “intuitive” user interface. Now, that idea is getting some push-back in a piece at the MIT Technology Review, “I’m Boycotting ‘Intuitive’ Interfaces.” It isn’t the slick and/or easy-to-use UIs themselves that writer John Pavlus has a problem with, but the impression that these designs just somehow “feel natural.” He writes:

“[Jef] Raskin points out (and any HCI expert or UI designer worth her salt will already know this) that ‘intuitive’ is just a sloppy quasi-synonym for ‘familiar.’ If you don’t feel like you have to learn how to use a tool–that you ‘just get it,’ that you ‘already know,’ or ‘it just works’–then it feels like it’s magically tapping into your ineffable ‘intuition.’ It ain’t. You still have to learn how to use it. It’s just that the more familiar it is (or seems), the less you notice the effort of that learning (or the less effort there will be to begin with). A pen is ‘intuitive’ because you’ve used a zillion pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and stick-shaped inscriptor-tools in your life. A computer mouse is ‘intuitive’ for the same reason (if you were born in or after my generation). If you grew up 500 years ago in an agrarian society, you might think a plow or a scythe was pretty [darned] intuitive. Would you know what the $#*& to do with a plow if I put it in your hands right now?”

The man has a point. So what, one might ask, why not let UI designers (and marketers) continue to throw around the word “intuitive” willy-nilly? Because, Pavlus insists, it sets up unrealistic expectations for users. Besides, he asserts, trying to minimize the learning curve distracts designers from what should be their top priority—facilitating connections between people. I’m not sure I’m on board with his boycott of the term, but I expect I will now hear the word “familiar” in my head whenever I hear or read “intuitive.”

Cynthia Murrell, April 09, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Navigation Misses the Point of Search and Retrieval

March 18, 2013

How does one become a sheeple? One answer is, “Accept search outputs without critical thinking.”

I don’t want to get into a squabble with the thinkers at Nielsen Norman Group. I suggest you read “Converting Search into Navigation” and then reflect on the fact that this was the basic premise of Endeca and then almost every other search vendor on the planet since the late 1990s. The idea is that users prefer to click than type queries or, better yet, have the system just tell the user what he or she wants without having to do so much as make a click.

Humans want information and most humans don’t want to expend much, if any, effort getting “answers.” In the late 1970s, I worked on a Booz, Allen & Hamilton study which revealed that managers in that pre-Internet Dark Age got information by asking the first person encountered in the hall, a person whom an executive could get on the phone, or by flipping through the old school trade magazines which once flowed into in boxes.

A happy quack to

What’s different today? According to the write up, as I understand it, not too much. The article asserts:

Users are incredibly bad at finding and researching things on the web. A few years ago, I characterized users’ research skills as “incompetent,” and they’ve only gotten worse over time. “Pathetic” and “useless” are words that come to mind after this year’s user testing.

There you go. When top quality minds like those Booz, Allen & Hamilton tried to hire took the path of least resistance almost 50 years ago, is it a big surprise that people are clueless when it comes to finding information?

The point of the article is that people who make interfaces have to design for mediocre searchers. Mediocre? How about terrible, clueless, inept, or naive? The article says:

… you should redirect users from a normal SERP to a category page only when their query is unambiguous and exactly matches the category. A search for “3D TV” could go to the subcategory page for these products, but a search for “3D” should generate a regular SERP. (Costco does this correctly, including both 3D televisions and other products relevant to the query.) Until people begin to grasp the complexities of search and develop skills accordingly, businesses that take such extra steps to help users find what they need will improve customer success — and the bottom line.

My view is just a little bit different and not parental like the preceding paragraph.

Read more

If Oracle RightNow Saved a Salesman

February 21, 2013

If only he had had access to Oracle’s RightNow, Willy Loman’s story might have ended differently. Is that what Greg Sirbu is trying to say when he evokes Arthur Miller’s 1949 opus Death of a Salesman? The literary allusion frames a fictional conversation in Perficient’s blog post, “When? Now? Yes! RightNow! You’ll Find it in the Cloud. . . .

Sirbu recasts Miller’s scene between the ill-fated Loman and his employer, Howard Wagner, as a modern-day conversation. This time, though, the Salesman is able to suggest their company (Widget, Inc.) adopt RightNow, Oracle‘s cloud-based customer experience platform. His pitch sounds a lot like Oracle’s promotional material, explaining the software’s features. The blog’s creator, Perficient, is eventually brought into the hypothetical dialogue:

“That sounds very complex Loman,” Howard said. “Our information technology staff is busy with many other projects, they may not have the time right now to bring what sounds like a great solution up-to-speed in a timely fashion.’

“Howard, we don’t need to worry about that,” Loman said. “Oracle has a solution implementation partner, Perficient, that can bring all the necessary consulting resources to bear to ensure that RightNow is structured just the way we need it built for our business.”

“Sounds like we need to explore RightNow, right now!” Wagner said.

Of course he did. Such a turn of events would have ruined Miller’s play, but that’s beside the point, I suppose. It is an interesting tactic; will enough readers recognize the name “Willy Loman” to make this an effective device?

Formed in 1998, Perficient offers their clients a competitive edge with a variety of Internet-based business technologies. With offices around the world, the company maintains its headquarters in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Cynthia Murrell, February 21, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext

Complex Facebook Analytics Tool Available from Wolfram Alpha

January 22, 2013

Wolfram Alpha is famous for its knowledgeable tools and widgets that involve highly complex algorithms and computations. However, many may be surprised to hear about the Facebook analytics tool which is available from the systematic knowledge engine. The article “Use Wolfram Alpha to Dig Up Cool Statistics About Your Facebook Account [Weekly Facebook Tips]” on MakeUseOf tells readers how to get detailed facebook information about their account.

The article shares:

“With the Wolfram Alpha Facebook analytics tool, you can find out a huge amount of information about your Facebook account. It’s quite fun to see which of your posts or photos are the most popular, who your top commenters are, who is sharing your posts the most and more interesting tidbits. Plus, it’s easy to use this tool and completely free. Why not have a go?”

I decided to have a go with the Facebook tool, and was overwhelmed with the amount of detailed information I was provided. Wolfram Alpha told me everything from the moon phase at the time of my birth to statistical data about the top contributors on my page. Of course, all of this information is readily available to anyone with access to my page. This tool is fun, but may encourage others to consider resetting the privacy settings on their accounts.

Andrea Hayden, January 22, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Beyond Search

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